Stepanovich ready to roll

Senior offensive lineman Alex Stepanovich returns this week after missing time due to injury, and his presence will be a boost to the OSU offense.

Ohio State's offense gets a big boost this week as arguably the top offensive lineman on the team, Alex Stepanovich, returns from an ankle injury.

Stepanovich went down towards the end of the first half of the San Diego State game and has not played since.

"Personally, right now, I feel pretty good," Stepanovich said. "It just comes down to how well I am feeling on game day and making it through the rest of this week. I want to be out there as an asset to the team. I don't want to be out there leaning around a little bit.

"But at this point now, I feel like I'm ready. I'm ready to roll. If nothing changes, I am just going to go with it. As of right now, I feel good."

Stepanovich started the first two games of the season at center, but with the emergence of Nick Mangold, look for him to start at guard this week.

"I'm working at some other positions right now; trying to get mentally back into it," Stepanovich said. "As of right now, I've been playing a lot more guard. Nick's done a great job since he's been in there and it all comes down to the fact of what are needs are right now and I just want to come back and try and contribute as much as I can. Right now, I really don't have much of a role, so I'm just trying to get myself back to where I can help this team win some games. Like I said, Nick's done a great job and we've got to adjust to what the needs are up front."

It is no secret that the Buckeyes have been unable to find the right lineup on the O-line. The return of "Step" might finally give them the right mix.

"We're looking to get the best combination for us," Stepanovich said. "In the past, I've moved over. We always considered Nick a starter, even though he was the sixth guy for a while. But the past couple games, he's really shown that he can handle things up front and maybe getting the best five is having me move out (to guard)."

The last few weeks, Stepanovich had the chance to step back and watch the offense from the sidelines – from a coach's point of view. Obviously, the running game has not been up to par. Has Stepanovich noticed anything in particular that was missing in the running game?

"Another offensive lineman," he quipped. "No, sometimes it's just the littlest things. Watching from the coaches' view, sometimes you have ten of the eleven guys doing what they need to do and a guy slips up his block a little bit. And I think a lot of it's kind of coming out with a little more of an attitude and realizing that we are going to run the ball no matter what they give us. I think with the bye week, we're starting to hit our stride a little bit more in the running game."

Due to limited numbers at the tailback position, the Bucks weren't able to work on the running game as much as they would have liked early in the season.

"When we hit camp, we kind of had to throw the ball," Stepanovich said. "We didn't have that many tailbacks in camp. The first chance to work with them this year was the season – we didn't get that much in the preseason with them. I think with the week we had off last week and the way we're running the ball right now this week, I think we might hit our stride."

Wisconsin is always one of the most physical teams on OSU's schedule and this year is no different. The Badgers haven't been all that great defensively the last few years, but they're solid against the run and play with a lot of intensity.

"I think they're real physical," Stepanovich said. "They're definitely going to try to take the run away. If you watch their film – or if you watch our games in the past – they're going to put nine and 10 guys in the box and force you to throw the ball.

"You can't throw the ball every play and you can't run the ball every play, so it's one of those games where field position and special teams is huge and winning the line of scrimmage is big. Offensive and defensive-wise. So, the guys up front on both sides, we've got to come out ready to play."

Stepanovich will be making his third trip to Camp Randall Stadium in four years. Although the Bucks have faired well in Madison, he knows it's a tough place to play.

"The atmosphere up there is going to be electric, being late at night, and that's a tough place to win anyway. So, they're going to be ready to go. You definitely know what kind of fans they have and you definitely hear them all the time."

Crowd noise will be a factor for the Buckeyes' offense. Craig Krenzel doesn't make a ton of calls at the line anyway, but he'll be doing even less of that this week.

"That is one of the things we're going to try and work out this week," Stepanovich said. "Maybe not make as many checks at the line, or something of that nature, that doesn't affect us as much. But it comes into making sure that we know what's going on and making sure we're on top of things."

Stepanovich was asked if he'll likely play right guard, or left guard.

"Little bit of both right now."

Is it a big adjustment going from center to guard?

"Maybe not concept-wise, but just playing in space," Stepanovich said. "Everybody's close to me at center and I'm just trying to make sure I'm mentally prepared."

The Berea native doesn't care where he plays; he just wants to be out there knocking heads.

"I just like being on the field," he said. "That's the most important to me. But it's just getting back in the swing of things right now anyways. When I step on the field for Wisconsin, it will have been a month since I've been on the field."

Sitting out has been difficult for Stepanovich these last few weeks. He was poised for an All-Big Ten-type season – and while that's still a possibility – it was hard watching from the sidelines.

"It's frustrating," he said. "It's your last year and you always want to go out and do well and be able to perform every week. But it's one of those things that this is part of the game and you've got to deal with it. The toughest thing is that you're kind of off on your own a little bit and you don't feel part of the team as much and that's the way it goes. So, I just tried to stay mentally in it as much as I could and right now I'm just trying to contribute. That's my goal right now: get back on the field and help the team win some games."

The bye week came at the perfect time for the Bucks. In addition to giving Stepanovich an extra week to heal, the offense also gets the services of Krenzel and fullback Branden Joe. The latter played against Northwestern, but is just now getting close to 100 percent.

"I'm sure guys feel pretty comfortable having Craig back and hopefully they feel a little refreshed having me back in there," Stepanovich said. "It's just great to be back out there. Having guys like Craig and Branden back, it's given guys a little bit of a boost. Craig's done some big things for us and Branden's a bruiser."

Stepanovich says he gets a little extra fired up playing a smash-mouth team like Wisconsin.

"I think you've got to; you almost have to," he said. "It's one of those things where you know every yard you gain is going to be a tough yard. If you just come out expecting to spread it out and not be physical, you're going to be surprised and they're going to be kicking your butt.

"As an offensive line, we've been talking about all week of making sure we finish up plays and we're physical all the time because they've got big guys up front and like I said, their safeties in the box, and they're going to force you to do things you might not want to do. So, we know up front we're going to have to be real physical to run the ball and we're going to have to be physical to pass protect. I think that plays into their style. That's the game they like to play and they're tough kids."

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